Today marks the last day of our four-day Ignite Esports Camp. This was a paid, four full-day camp open to rising 5th – 9th grade students from northwest NC. The response exceeded my expectations. We had 10 students from our rural region!
We spent a small amount of time talking about the esports industry, collegiate competition, scholarships, etc. But, kids don’t come to summer camps to listen to grownups talk, so we quickly jumped into our first game, Brawlhalla. Brawlhalla is a free-to-play game like Super Smash Brothers on the Nintendo. We downloaded via Steam. Within minutes the room was buzzing with excitement as they learned the basics movements, controls, and even techniques. Later that day, once the Blizzard servers were done with maintenance, we moved into Hearthstone.
My first hunch was that, after the frenetic pace of Brawlhalla, they’d find Hearthstone too slow. Hearthstone is a free-to-play strategy card game based on the popular World of Warcraft franchise. I was surprised, again, to see them excitedly working through the game’s tutorials. Two games, one day… I was tired and they were chatting enthusiastically on the way to the car pickup line.
Kicking off day two, I chatted strategy and mechanics in Hearthstone with them. Of all the games we played during the week, it’s Hearthstone I know best. Again, less talk from me and more time in the game was important. Later in the morning, we began exploring Blizzard’s Heroes of the Storm, a multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) game. It’s also free. This game was more complex at the onset and they struggled a bit with the game’s challenges. After lunch we split into five vs. five matches at which point their enjoyment of the game grew exponentially. Here, one team consistently dominated the other. They communicated, made plans, and to some degree, executed them. The other team struggled to connect to each other in this game. It was fascinating.
Here was one of many teachable moments. We pulled back and reflected. What’s working? What isn’t? How can we grow? Again, this was short and sweet, then back into the game.
Day three brought Rocket League and Super Smash Brothers. I’d purchased six copies of Rocket League and set up six district Steam accounts for the game. While six were learning the fast-paced action in soccer with cars, the others were playing Smash Brothers on a student’s Switch connected to the projector. We then rotated everyone through both games.
Our final day included significant blocks of free choice among our games. Students self organized their games, game rules/settings, and so forth. This was a great opportunity for me to jump in and play with them. This is so important. Play with them. Model sportsmanship and healthy game-related banter. They love to see you fail and succeed. We wrapped up with mini tournaments in each game. They established the rules for each tournament.
Here are some final thoughts and observations:
- Contrary to what vendors or “hard core gamers” might tell you, you don’t have to have high-end machines to start an esports program, club, or camp. We ran all of the above games without issue on low-profile Dell lab computers that are probably 2-3 years old, integrated graphics and all that. We played everything with mouse and keyboard. Yes, even Brawlhalla and Rocket League.
- Most of the games we played were unfamiliar to my campers. Exposure to new games was a good thing. In introduced many of them to new genres. I even noticed several logged in and playing Hearthstone outside the camp.
- Students attitudes change quickly. The initial experience some had in Heroes of the Storm turned them off, but team play (and the subsequent successes) turned them around.
- Everyone can lead somewhere. Some students emerged as leaders in one game while others emerged in another game. This makes me think that an esports program could be huge in membership with students specializing in one or two games.
- We form bonds through game experiences. I know this. I’ve known this. This camp reinforced my own experiences. Diverse kids connect through game experiences. By the end of the first day they were high-fiving, GG-ing (Good Game), and otherwise encouraging each other. By the end of the week, they were comfortable enough with each other for friendly/healthy smack-talk too.
- If I were to spend money, I’d purchase some additional Rocket League licenses (wait ’til they go on sale). I’d also pick up some game controllers for Windows PCs.
Many are already making plans to attend next year’s camp and bring friends. Now, to get formal programs started in our schools!!